Jan 312019
 

Wild Magic

The cover may not look like much, but there’s a veritable storm of chaos within!

This massive expansion for Spheres of Power clocks in at 94 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 88 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my readers to be moved up in my reviewing queue.

We begin this supplement with a foreword called “Forward” (clever pun or oversight?), before we are introduced to the basis of Wild Magic – the wild magic chance, which is a percentile value that affects spells and sphere-abilities, but SPs and activated items are usually exempt, though effects that increase wild magic chance do apply to them. It should also be noted that increases of wild magic chance stack, and that there is no “stable magic”, i.e. wild magic chance cannot fall below 0% probability When a wild magic chance is triggered, a wild magic event occurs – these vary wildly, and when a specific DC is not explicitly noted, default to a DC-value of 10 + ½ the originating creature’s HD + the creature’s casting ability modifier, or, in an absence thereof, the creature’s highest mental ability score modifier. In the case of multiple effects being triggered, they are resolved in order, but duplicate results do not stack. A check to determine wild magic is a d%-roll, with any result equal to or below the percentile chance triggering the wild magic effect. For wild magic chances exceeding 100%, one wild magic effect is guaranteed to take place, with the probability of a second effect. This is determined by subtracting 100 from the total chance and checking. In the instance of multiple spheres being used in conjunction with a triggering effect, the respective spheres are divided equally, rounded up, and then you roll on each sphere’s table. This seems like a solid solution to me. In the case of an absence of a sphere of an originating effect, an universal wild magic table is provided. If effects modify the roll on such a table below 1, they are wrapped around, much like a moebius strip, adding 100 to determine the effect – it’s a small thing, but rules-aesthetics wise a design decision I enjoyed for its simplicity and elegance.

Some wild magic results have the (Combat) tag, and only take effect if the caster is in combat, which is concisely defined. If rolled outside of combat, the result is shelved and applies once combat is initiated. If you have the wild magic drawback and the Cantrips feat or similar access to the like, you may, at-will, as a standard action roll on the cantrips wild magic table; you can reduce the action required via spell point expenditure, and saving throw DC defaults to 10 + ½ class level + casting ability modifier. Wild magic may also substitute mishap chances of spellcrafted spells. Minor nitpick: header for this section is not properly bolded, and same goes for the subsequent notes on the interaction of wild-magic and talent-based crafting and traditional casting. Nice plus: The pdf does come with a school/sphere conversion guideline, which allows for seamless integration of the system proposed with targets that do not apply sphere-based casting. Rules to identify wild magic are provided, and there are a couple of variant rules included that I absolutely adored: For example, replacing spell failure due to breaking concentration with wild magic…and there is a notion of major events, which applies when a wild magic chance would rise above 200%. These are supported by a table of their own, instead of requiring stacking. This is pretty much the definition of going the extra mile. Kudos!

The pdf contains 2 different archetypes, the first of which would be the arcanophage elementalist, who can intuitively understand magic witnessed in practice. When successfully identifying a sphere, the caster gains access to 1 talent used in that effect, plus an additional one for every 3 class levels. These temporary talents are retained for 1 minute per class level. The total maximum of talents caps at a total of CAM; subsequent ability uses that would increase the number of tricks beyond that value require the choosing of which to retain. Kudos: Prerequisite talents that allow for use of the respective ability are explicitly exempt from being viable choices for being lost. Any sphere effect thus gained uses class level instead of CL…and, here’s the catch: wild magic chance increases by 10% per talent, stacking with itself. This replaces weave energy…and makes for a surprisingly epic modification of the base chassis, allowing for Final Fantasy-style mimic action.

Bonus combat feats are modified to instead allow for casting and wild magic feats, and instead of favored element, we get stifle spell, which translates to the Counterspell feat, which works in conjunction with aforementioned spell mimicry; this ability improves at 8th and 14th level, with MSB-bonuses and the susbsequent feats in the Counterspell feat chain being unlocked. Instead of a dodge bonus, we get a scaling save boost versus magic, spells, SPs and sphere-effects. 5th level provides spell shield, which means that the arcanophage gets SR equal to a 5 + class level versus spheres of which he currently has a talent gained via spell mimicry. Lowering and raising this is covered, and the SR does scale. This replaces elemental defense. Finally, energy body is replaced with a loss of the wild magic chance increase, and the delimiting of the timer of the base ability. This archetype is a glorious little piece of design that is significantly more  fun and novel than the class it modifies – a surprisingly efficient and fun class hack. Two thumbs up!!

The second archetype within would be the wild mage thaumaturge, who replaces forbidden lore with tap chaos: As part of casting a spell or using a sphere ability, the wild mage may increase his CL by 2, a bonus that increases by +1 at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. This applies to the specific effect, but not overarching sphere effects like companion strength et al….but if the wild mage does this, wild magic chance increases by 100%, though this can be affected by effects that, in some way affect wild magic chance. The archetype comes with a new, custom set of 10invocations, including one that reduces wild magic chance by 50%, temporarily infecting a creature affected by a tap chaos-enhanced effect with wild magic chance, better spell penetration with tap chaos, getting a defensive miss chance shield, delay the onset of wild magic effects and the like. The more potent invocations are kept behind appropriate minimum level restrictions. The capstone allows for the use of 2 invocations at will. So…I’m not a big fan of the thaumaturge, but as far as the class is concerned, this actually represents an archetype I’d enjoy playing. Congrats!

There also is a new arsenal trick – and much to my joy, we do also get a new imbue sequence (imbue + finish) for the monumentally awesome prodigy class from Spheres of Might. Scholars from Spheres of Might get to choose a new material imposition, with lead, which, following lore, can help block divinations; lacing wild magic-y effects into flashbangs is also possible here. Nice! Four new mystic combats also allow you to dabble in the chaotic joy of wild magic if you’re a mageknight, including SR and even the chance to return abilities that fail to pierce it back to sender.

The next chapter, which deals with player options, features a total of 10 feats, all of which have the (Wild Magic)-descriptor. As an aside: Kudos for explaining how burn works in a sidebar, as the first feat, Blood Dampening, allows you to exert a bit more control and negate wild magic events you cause (excluding major events, unless you have a couple of wild magic feats) by taking burn. This decision must be taken before the roll on the table is made; having enough wild magic feats reduces burn. Careful Caster presents a scaling reduction of wild magic effects; Chaotic Counter adds a temporary increase in wild magic event chance for targets who successfully counterspell as well as a MSB-increase to do so. Energy Shift allows you to change destructive blast energy types via wild magic chance; Inspired Surge increases wild magic chance by +100%, but nets you one of the effect’s base sphere talents temporarily to your arsenal. You still have to meet prerequisites. Heedless Metamagic modifies metamagic feats to instead operate via wild magic; rolling twice on the table and choosing the result, increased wild magic chance for better SR-penetration, modified sell point cost (here, slightly uncommonly, abbreviated with SP), and chaotic switches of effects – all of these are interesting in a couple of ways: They allow you to twist risk/reward ratios, and to exert more reliable control over wild magic – but never to the extent that it becomes “tame”…and lame. Even if you play it safe, wild magic still remains a volatile force, though one that you can strain to tweak and twist. This is, design-wise, a tightrope act that plenty of chaos magic iterations I’ve read over the years got wrong.

We do get more: a casting tradition, a boon, a general drawback and two actually meaningful traits complement this section. The pdf sports 3 magic items – chaos buffers allow armor and shields to add their effects to saves versus wild magic. Wild critical, at +1, temporarily makes the target of critical hits sport a 100% wild magic chance. Matrix of order lets you 1/day negate a wild magic event.

And then begins what makes this book epic: Wild Magic tables. Dozens and dozens of pages of Wild Magic tables. All d100-strong, all with no less than 100 effects! Yep, you read right. This may be the most comprehensive, massive book on chaos/wild magic effects penned for any iteration of d20, ever. And the effects are just what they ought to be: Chaotic! Taking ability damage? Check. Temporarily get the Draining Casting drawback? Check. Decreased spell point cost? Check. Sudden manifestations of elementals, with CL determining size? Check. Becoming temporarily a plant creature? Check. Being stunned? Yep. Sudden fire on all unattended objects? Yup. Casting time increase by two steps? Yep – though that one would have benefited from a brief sidenote that explains steps in casting time; not all players/GMs have the system mastery to immediately know what’s meant here. Temporary swapping of BAB and CL? Immunity to all spheres not possessed? Yep, and double yep. By the by – all of these are from the universal table!

The pdf has so much more to offer: As noted before, there is a cantrip table, where the loss of the ability to distinguish colors, grease-painted style moustaches, retries of some skills, concentration-disrupting squeaks and the like may be found. Did I mentioned the Stealth-enhancing option to temporarily become translucent? On the other end of the power spectrum, the optional major event table sports more serious modifications – like the caster being slain and immediately reincarnate’d (spell italicization missing); temporary loss of all spell points/spell slots within Long range can potentially doom whole military units; did I mention immediate animation of all dead creatures in a 10 mile radius? This table is amazing if you want to emphasize the volatile nature of magic. In fact, it’s what I’d be using if my players opted for a return to Ravenloft or a grittier campaign setting – this table makes magic feel dangerous, unstable, and potent – a force to be feared, a grand equalizer, a tool with potentially disastrous consequences when misused. I LOVE IT.

The Alteration sphere (EDIT: Now bookmarked properly!) is a great example for the fun and weird things wild magic can bring to your table: Beyond the expected sex-change, we also have shapeshift (not italicized) not having an effect – or the chance that all creatures are morphed into a homogenous blob, or that they gain swallow whole! (Also notable here – entry 6 and 7 are nigh identical, differentiated only slightly by verbiage). It should be noted that there are always a few effects that can be found in multiple tables – like being stunned for one round in combat…but the majority of this pdf? Unique. Conjuration sphere users can get invisible summons (which can be hilarious), end up being merged into an amalgam with the creature, end up with a regenerating creature…you get the idea. Creation sphere based wild magic includes damage to unattended objects, having the ground become covered with flammable oil, swarms of paper cranes (!!!) granting concealment and inflicting paper cuts, box-creation, creating water in lungs, generating marble-like objects…and more.

Among the Dark sphere entries, we have see in darkness, trailing darkness, have your shadow perform mocking pantomimes, temporarily developing photophobic vertigo, black tendrils, a kleptomaniac shadow, instilling light blindness…. And speaking of Light: Anti-Dark burst, being surrounded by strobing lights or distracting motes, areas affected by all your (glow) talents, pillars of light – cool stuff!

The Death sphere table (EDIT: Now bookmarked properly) provides temporary undead apotheosis, raging dead, a negative energy aura, sarcastic floating skulls (LOL! – Mort homage?), being compelled to exhume dead…notice something? These tables genuinely represent the effects of their respective spheres. Life’s table may make you more susceptible to diseases, adding pain to healing, nonlethal damage, temporary hit points…and what about becoming, for a brief while, someone who takes the damage healed? Did I mention the trail of positive energy?

Illusion is particularly neat – from an illusory longsword to getting a fireworks display when you next enter town (that can be really awkward…) to flickering disguises and illusory insect swarms, this is a pretty massive one. Did I mention illusory weather? The Mind sphere’s table can make targets think they’re chicken! What about effects failing, with the caster firmly convinced that they worked? Yeah, that can be rather funny indeed. Temporary language loss, potentially putting targets to sleep…and, once again more, so much more. The Nature sphere includes dust storms, sporting armor spikes for allies, attracting rodents Hamelin-style, stone-sheaths on foes, ice locking down targets, vegetation size increases…or what about turning all nearby animals friendly for a while? Protection sphere effects include flat-out immunity to almost everything in one entry, and in another, pretty much the opposite – Protection + wild magic is a truly volatile table that can turn the tide of battle. Speaking of which: Yes, there is a table for the War sphere, and it has quite a bunch of combat effects – it may also compel you to charge potential threats, hamper all movement, temporarily gaining teamwork feats…

At this point, you probably get the design paradigm behind these – a mix of far-out effects, potent benevolent and malignant effects. Telekinesis, Time, Warp, Divination, Destruction and Enhancement, Fallen Fey, Fate also are covered…EDIT: And the publisher has swiftly responded, adding in the missing bookmarks, and making the book as comfortable to use as it should be. Kudos! The pdf concludes with approximately a page of referenced material reprinted for your convenience. Kudos for that!

Conclusion:

Editing is very good on a formal and rules-language level – particularly regarding the density of this book, I was duly impressed. Same can’t be said about the formatting of the rules-components, which often deviates from the established standards. A thorough check in that regard would have helped the book. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series, and artworks are solid stock art. EDIT: There has been an issue, where not all tables had been bookmarked correctly. The publisher Adam Meyer has responded swiftly and fixed that! Kudos indeed!

I do NOT envy Andrew Stoeckle the epic task that the completion of this book must have been. Writing basically 76 pages of mechanically relevant tables for the spheres, taking all the peculiarities of spheres and how differently they operate from another into account, must have been a truly daunting task. Particularly since chaos magic is already a difficult subject: You have to be volatile and chaotic without being too random; you have to walk the tightrope between benefits and penalties…and if you overshoot in one direction, it’ll be called OP; in the other direction, no one will use it. Chaos Magic is hard.

Particularly considering that premise, it’s pretty baffling when you stop for a moment and think about it –this book could have just slapped “you get chaos magic access” on all Spheres base classes and be done with it. The first three tables would have sufficed, done. Most freelancers would have probably opted for that option. Instead of this, the book pretty much is the definition of going not one, but several extra miles. The archetypes presented within are not simple “slap chaos magic on xyz”- options; and we get not only the expected standard tables, but a vast, ginormous array of them! And they actually are genuinely distinct in tone, in rules employed, etc. Some effects are very  potent, some are devastating, and some are just genuinely funny and unique. This, in short, is the most impressive chaos magic book I’ve seen for PFRPG. my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval…and while the formatting isn’t as tight as it should be, this nonetheless represents a tremendous design achievement, and now, with bookmarks completely there, this also gets a nomination for my Top Ten of 2018. While nominally, the formatting snafus alone would usually drag this down to 4.5-stars terrain at least, the book is so chockfull with amazing stuff, oozes passion to such a degree, feels so genuinely fun and inspired, that anything short of 5 stars + seal of approval would be an atrocious injustice to this gem.

You can get this inspired, wild supplement here on OBS!

Missed Spheres of Might? You can find the book here!

Curious about Spheres of Power? The book can be found here!

You can directly support Drop Dead Studios making these sphere-system expansions here on patreon!

Endzeitgeist out.

Comments

  4 Responses to “Wild Magic”

  1. We will get the bookmarks fixed.

    It really was a big project that I might not have started if I had understood it at the beginning. The idea of the basic math came to me back while destruction was in playtest and I worked on it in fits and starts after that. Some editing issues would probably have been caught if the amount of entries didn’t make my eyes glaze over.

    • Andrew, you did an amazing thing here, and I really mean it. This may well be my favorite Sphere-casting expansion book to date. It oozes passion, and is pretty much the definition of going not one, but several extra miles. You have my utmost respect for what you did here, and it’s worth stating that I truly believe that this book is actually a good reason to go sphere-casting if one hasn’t already. It’s super-impressive, and even reviewing it was a TON more work than usual. From my design experience, I can extrapolate how much more work making this must have been. This seriously is a good reason for publishers to make you write more. And yeah, I can relate regarding eyes glazing over – it’s why I consider editors/devs so crucial.

      On another note: Yay for the bookmarks being resolved! 😀

      Cheers and thank you for commenting!!

  2. I am told the fix is made, but Drivethrurpg is having upload issues. Expect the fixed doc up when those are resolved.

    • Updated the reviews at the usual sites to reflect the changes made; can’t post my review currently on OBS, will bulk post next week! Cheers and have a great week-end!

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